Wednesday, June 28, 2006

SALLY GREENE'S RONNIE SCOTT'S - another shamess cash-in

Tuesday 27th June and I'm back at Ronnie Scott's for the first time under the new dispensation. Professor007 - the Austrian jazz fiend - and I were planning on some quality R&B time and I was all about seeing The God-Daughter of Soul, Carleen Anderson. I know that we she does isn't really jazz, but with a musician of that calibre, who's to complain?

Despite the quality of the entertainment, the pre-match vibes were distinctly off. A cursory inspection of the official website suggesting that old-skool haphazard charm was off the menu. Membership has skyrocketed as have the entry fees - £25 for a standard week-day night and the promise that it could double for the top acts. Worse still, you have to cast-iron book with credit-card details in advance. I guess this is fair-dos as you don't want empty tables from people who just don't turn up, but it does prevent those old late night spontaneous visits. But the inflexibility goes further than that. To guarantee getting food you have to pre-book for a two course set menu which pretty much doubles your spend. No more cheap-ass chilli (soaked up alcohol, kept you going till 3 am, job done!) but one of those trendy gastro-pub menus. I wasn't sure if were gonna get food at Bar Italia first, so I booked non-dining seats. From the website we also learn that the old club upstairs is gonna be switched to a chi-chi ultra-exclusive members joint serving, "rare vintage Dom Perignon." Yikes!

Still, there are some upsides - the main act now gets one set startng at 9:45. Last night it finished at midnight. This makes it a lot more feasible to go to Ronnies on a school night and not feel like you've missed out on half the fun by leaving for the last train home. I always used to feel sorry for the main act playing the second set at 1am to a dwindling group of earnest but sleepy fans.

Anyways, on the day itself, Professor007 was closing a deal in Canary Wharf so I was forced to rope in jazz-virgin, Nik or lose the up-front cash not to mention the chance to hear some great soul music. But it's all good. The old norms are re-established: meeting in Bar Italia to check the Spain-France score. The door-men are different - a lot more smoove than usual, but once you get iinto the club it's the same old shake-down at the coat-check.

I feel really old when I get inside the main room - lots of memories of the old place - sneaky visits when we were students, travelling back on the night bus from Marble Arch at 3am - the odd New Year's Eve with George Melly - the day James came up after finals in an Acapulco shirt and sub-fusc. But on the whole, the club looks good. Same old dim lighting, same old black and white photos of jazz greats on the walls. Pretty much the same configuration of tables except the bar has been moved from the left-hand side as you enter to the back wall opposite the stage. And this is where you start to notice the Little Differences, royale-with-cheese-stylee. 'Coz the bar isn't like a pub-bar anymore with waitresses in jeans and t-shirts pulling pints. It's like a bar in a Four Seasons hotel - all dark wood veneers and brushed steel. And then you realise that the staff are all in proper outfits and they don't look like they know who Stan Getz is. You could always get cocktails on the menu but know it looks like they might actually be capable of serving them. The tables don't have those kitsch red-and-white check table-cloths and instead of battered, fringed, table-lamps the new one look distinctly Designed. There are no beer-sodden in-house magazines advertising forthcoming acts scattered on the tables. You have to buy those for two squid fifty now.

We get to our seats are offered a choice of banquette. We can't do the first on account of the fact that it has less legroom than a charter flight. Sally Greene - the new owner - may have upped the seating capacity - but she's clearly counting on a short clientele. Next we order drinks from the all-new menu. It takes the waiter 45 minutes to bring them out and only after prompting. The guys sharing our banquette say the same thing happened to them.

We try to order food but are told that the kitchen is so busy we'll have to wait. So, despite the overt shameless cash-in they are actually restricting the clientele from spending money by a combination of tardiness and policy! The capitalist in me dies a little at the inconsistency. Anyways, after Nik threatens to eat the stage, we get menus and after another half hour wait try to order. Except no-one told us that they weren't serving a la carte - only the set menu! By this course, we'll order anything and do. The food comes after another hour-long wait.

Nik's green-lentil soup is bland, stone cold and came without a spoon! His main was also tepid and bland. My leek and mustard crumble on mash was scalding hot (microwave) and tasted of mash but nothing else. The apple tart was okay - very stodgy pastry and a bit odd to have it served with apple sorbet rather than someting with a complementary taste. Needless to say, this whole process took a long, long time. By this point Nik was fuming and the sheer ineptitude of the service was distracting us from the marvellous music. He called the manager out who cancelled the food and drinks bill and sent over two glasses of indifferent champagne. In fairness, she handled the situation well but it doesn't disguise the fact that the food and service were pitiful.

Overall, I'll go to Ronnies if the acts are good but not on a whim as I used to. We'll monitor the situation. But so far it seems that they've turned an authentic jazz club into a sort of five-star hotel bar with above average music, corporate prices and crappy food and service. Hardly a winning combination. However, I put my faith in capitalism and hope that customers will vote with their feet. I know I will.


  1. Shame, shame, shame. First of all, my profusest sorry, Nik, for that distinctly suboptimal experience you got in return for your spontaneous willingness to substitute for a at the time rather stressed out Professor.

    Second, shame on the club for converting it into yet another over-priced slick venue where greasy Russian gangsters can try to impress their 20yr old Belarussian birds. Except that if the service really sucks that badly, even they might leave the club behind (or head upstairs, I'm afraid).

    A sad moment indeed to have lost one of the absolute cult venues of jazz, since I don't quite share the hope that market forces will bring the club back to what it was. there's just too much money and too little taste around in this City.

  2. Such a shame. Good ol' Ronnie's is dead, not sure if I want to salute the new one. Guess I have to check it out at some point but from your description it doesn't sound like they've managed to retain that certain charm..*sob*.

  3. Sounds painful. I feel grateful for having lived through my student times with the "old" Ronnies as a reliable factor in life.

  4. A sad tale. It was the imperfections of the peripheral things at Ronnie's that added to the excellence of the whole. Trying (apparently unsucessfully) to iron out the former cannot but impair the latter. It sounds unlikely that they'll hold on to the mixed clientele too, which was part of the charm.

  5. Most of all I am shoched about the service in the bar!!! It's because I'm a barman and know how the service should be like!!! The best bar I've ever seen in my whole life is in Limassol Four Seasons!!! The names are the sames, but the service is opposite!!! To tell the clients that they should wait, because....because..., it's a great minus to the bar/hotel!!! You have the full right to demand the complaint book!!! The client is always right!!!